people in a circleRecapture and Stop-Loss

Priority One: Set Up, Promote and Convert to Electronic Funds Transfer

One cannot overestimate the value of EFT processing to a healthy sustainer program. EFT is the most steady, reliable, and cost-efficient way to manage a sustainer program over the long term. Once the donor is signed up, you never have to contend with expiration dates, stolen card numbers, or canceled cards. Fulfillment of EFT gifts is higher because the incidence of closed accounts or changed numbers is much lower than with credit cards.

Top performing stations place intensive focus on bringing in new sustainers on EFT and on converting current sustainers over to an EFT payment from credit cards.

Electronic Funds Transfer, or EFT, means that your station's financial institution contacts the donor's financial institution to transfer funds into your station's account on a monthly basis. The distinct advantage of EFT is that people very rarely change bank accounts, whereas credit cards can be changed quite frequently. Additionally, EFT fees are generally a bit less than credit card fees.

To set up an EFT process, work with your finance office. One key decision will be whether internal staff will manage the processing every week or month, or whether you'll engage a reliable outside vendor to handle automatic processing. The majority of stations employ an outside vendor.

Then when it comes to donations, all you need to do is secure the donor's Transit Routing Number (TRN) and checking account number. You'll find some examples on how to present this information in the Resources section. Once it's set up, a file of donor banking information is generated each month through your donor database system or the third party vendor and sent to your bank for transmission.

If EFT is so great, why not sign up all sustainers on EFT in the first place? Just like any marketing or fundraising offer, the easier it is to take action, the more likely someone will join in. It's far more important for your station's long-term revenue to secure the maximum number of sustainers than it is to have them pay with EFT up front. So while you want to keep the idea front and center, and make sure it's laid out clearly and simply on your giving forms, and phone scripts realize that for the majority of your new sustaining donors who typically come to you as the result of an on-air appeal, their credit card is on hand and ready to be used, and the bank account idea is a new concept, unlikely to be picked up in the first appeal.

Before you begin to promote EFT, it's important to know the rules. The National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA) governs the rules for electronic payments. Up-to-date information can be found at Be sure to check the rules and determine how to implement them both online, in the mail and over the phone if you conduct telemarketing.

In many cases, the station is required to keep records of donor authorization on file for two years after the donation has ended.

Priority Two: Keep Up with Credit Card Processing

At most stations, the majority of sustainer gifts are still being made through credit cards. Over time, these cards typically will expire, be declined, or be replaced, which demands that the station must secure updated information in order to continue to receive monthly payments.

To make sure your credit card revenue is maximized, begin by setting up protocols:

  • Process credit cards daily
  • Set up standards for how many times a failed card will be re-tried (recommend three)
  • Set up a donor communication plan for retrieving new credit card information
  • In every communication, attempt to convert donors to EFT
  • Set up processes for writing off pledges after donors fail to respond so that they will be swept back into your lapsed donor solicitations
  • Build reports so that you can track your efforts and understand how many sustainers are cycling in and out of your program and what the causes are

Before the Card Expires

The best way to avoid credit card declines and missing payments is to begin communications about credit card expiration with sustainers before the card even expires. A month before the card expires, contact the donor through multiple channels to make sure you get in touch with them in the way that works best for them. This includes mailing and emailing a reminder to update their credit card information, including instructions for donors to easily update their information online. If resources permit, you may also want to call sustainers at this stage instead of waiting until after their credit card has failed.

Managing Declined Cards

When a card is declined, continue to use all channels to get the sustainer back into your system. Chances are they will be happy to update their information if you can get in touch with them through the right channel, at the right moment, but busy lives mean that they may not automatically connect a new credit card with a need to contact your station.

Beyond continuing to send emails and mail, it can be effective to call sustainers for recapture. Unlike traditional telemarketing, it is appropriate to leave a message explaining why you're calling, including instructions to update their information. Because these donors are already people who cared enough to become sustainers, you won't have to pitch them — they likely simply haven't had a chance to update their information, or don't know how to do so.

An assertive, yet effective recapture strategy might look like the following:

Use every payment recapture communication as an opportunity to give donors the chance to give directly through EFT. That way they won't have to remember the next time their card changes or expires!

Day 1:Email sent just after decline
Day 1:Phone call in afternoon
Day 1:Add to evening telemarketing list if no response
Day 3:Repeat process if no response
Week 1:Email reminder
Week 2:Mail reminder plus email reminder
Week 3:Email reminder
Month 1:Phone call
Month 1:Mail reminder
Month 2:Mail reminder
Ongoing:On-air spots
Ongoing:Easy online forms

It's vital to budget staff and resources for this recapture process, and to build in as much automation as possible.

Automatic Services

Many stations have signed up for automatic credit card updater services. These services have a cost somewhere in the 50 cent range for each credit card re-instated – a cost well worth gaining the immediate ability to re-charge monthly donations. Keep in mind that when using a service like this, all credit cards will not be updated, so you still must have all other recapture elements in place to manage the cards that do not get picked up in this manner.

Additionally, some phone answering services are now offering 24/7 numbers for donors to call in and update their information, operating on the theory that most donors will engage with reminder communications on the weekends or evenings when your station's phones are not operating. The distinct advantage of employing a service like this is that they also work off of very defined scripts, which more effectively recapture key information, but also can attempt EFT conversions and upgrades.

On-Air Spots

Don't discount the power of a simple 15-second spot to remind your sustainers to take action on their credit card.

KXYZ sustaining members — if you've recently received a new credit card, please update your information online at or call ###-###-#### to make sure your support of KXYZ stays current. You make all the difference! Thank you!

You'll be surprised by how many people contact you after hearing the on-air spot, even though they have already received your personal and direct email and direct mail communications. It takes all platforms to connect with people leading busy lives.

Get Them Back: Reactivation and Reinstatement

After about three months of trying to recapture credit card information for sustainers, it is unfortunately time to consider them inactive. It's no longer worth funneling resources into contacting them so frequently if they have not chosen to re-instate their giving in all that time.

As you manage your database to write off their sustaining pledge, be sure that these donors continue to be labeled as lapsed sustainers. This way, they can be included in an occasional sustainer reinstatement campaign, usually through telemarketing, as one final attempt to encourage these formerly loyal donors to come back on board.